The rest of the league a six-game head start on Sidney Crosby as he recovered from a concussion, but no one should be surprised by how fast he has found himself back atop the scoring race.
Regardless of how well Artemi Panarin played en route to his Calder Trophy win in 2015-16, the fact of the matter was that he likely only took home the hardware because Connor McDavid missed nearly half the campaign due to injury.
In the 45 games McDavid played, he scored 16 goals and 48 points, making him more than a point-per-game player. He’s improved on that mark this season, clipping along at a healthy 1.17 points per game with 13 goals and 42 points in 36 outings. With his early season performance, it again seemed like McDavid was in line for another major piece of hardware — maybe the Art Ross, and possibly even the Hart.
Then Sidney Crosby returned.
Since Crosby’s return to action from a concussion to start the campaign, he has been nothing short of outstanding, proving again with almost every game that he’s far from vacating the throne as the best player in the world.
In his first game back, he scored. In his second game, he potted yet another. Then in his third outing of the campaign, he doubled his goal total, potting his third and fourth of the campaign. Those scoring ways have continued ever since, bringing us to the point where, with five fewer games under his belt, Crosby has now tied McDavid atop the league’s scoring list with an almost unthinkable 26 goals and 42 points in 31 games.
The kicker, though, is that we shouldn’t be expecting Crosby to slow down in even the slightest.
Over the course of his career, Crosby has consistently been more than a point-per-game player. From the high-scoring post-lockout years to the current, lower-scoring days, Crosby has peaked at 1.61 points per game and, at his, uh, “worst,” was clipping along at 1.06 points per outing. Altogether, he came into the campaign with a career points per game rate of 1.33, which then makes his current rate of 1.35 not only the best in the league, but exactly in the range we’d expect to find Crosby.
If the previous years of Crosby’s career have been any indication, however, there could be reason to expect somewhat of a slowdown in his goals per game rate.
Right now, Crosby is scoring at a rate that would see him finish the year with 64 goals. That would be a mind-boggling total, but one that would almost make sense given he’s five shy of being a goal-per-game scorer at the moment. Over his career, though, Crosby hasn’t operated at near that clip, scoring 0.49 goals per game for the bulk of his career. Through 31 games this year, that rate has skyrocketed to 0.84 per game.
Surprisingly, though, scoring at this kind of pace isn’t unprecedented for Crosby. It’s been several seasons since we’ve seen anything like this from Crosby — the last time he was more than a mid-30-goal scorer came in 2009-10 — but he eclipsed the half-goal per game mark during the half-season he played in 2010-11. Through 41 games that year, Crosby netted 32 goals and 66 points, finishing in a tie for 14th in goal scoring and 30th in points despite being sidelined for much of the campaign.
But even if Crosby’s goal scoring rate does drop, there’s a great chance he picks things up in the assist column. His current half-assist per game rate is almost a third of an assist less than he has averaged throughout his career, and he’s still shown he’s as dynamic a passer as there is in the league. Picking up seven assists in six games at the best-on-best World Cup of Hockey was no fluke.
And if Crosby’s assists can help him maintain his points pace if his goal scoring rate slows, it could mark only the fourth time in the past five full seasons a player has racked up 100-plus points, and Crosby could very well add yet another Art Ross to his already considerable trophy case.
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